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"World tour of Scotland" at www.nigelandkathyinscotland.blogspot.com

Thursday, 28 April 2011


I never get tired of examining the Cal Mac map of its Scottish Island Hopscotch routes. The names of the ferry ports rival the shipping forecast for poetry: Scalasaig, Castlebay, Eriskay, Stornaway, Berneray, Fishnish………

Britain is an island of course, but it doesn’t normally feel like it. Climb one of the mountains of Arran and you can see its edges all around you.

First-time visitors to the Isle of Arran appear to be driven by two compulsions. The first is to go round it (by one means or another) and the second is to climb to the highest bit (Goat Fell). This gives a reassuring sense of boundaries. I know because I did it too. These days, living on a small island, my mountain climbing is measured, not by Naismith’s Rule, but by the ferry to-ing and fro-ing down below: “Oh look, there’s the ferry coming,” I say, and a bit later “ There goes the ferry,” and a bit later “Oh no, not the ferry,” (aware of the embarrassing truth that I’m walking very slowly).

The main fact of life about islands is that you can get stuck on them.

Nigel and I got stuck on an uninhabited Scottish island once, on a sea-kayaking trip. Never assume that just because you’ve planned something it can’t go wrong- especially where the sea’s concerned. We had failed to understand that a force 5 or 6 forecast constitutes good weather in Northern Scotland. In the end we faced a choice between crossing choppy seas and being attacked repeatedly by great skuas, which flew at our heads with military precision. We decided that the sea was marginally less vicious, and fortunately lived to tell the tale.

So- living on an island is all about living with the knowledge that there are times when you can’t get off. And there are not only no 24 hour supermarkets on Arran but no food deliveries at all when the ferries don’t sail. The Sunday papers get to the village shop at Pirnmill about 12.30; which actually is a very good excuse for a long lie-in.

From Arran you can see lots of islands, small and big: Pladda, Ailsa Craig, the Cumbrae, Inchmarnock, Islay, Jura, Bute ... even Mull, all waiting in the sea suggesting all sorts of tempting possibilities. And that’s another thing…. in island life your most useful possession is a boat.

Scottish island in April. The water’s lovely!